*This is a new concept, a brief, digestible pre-game level-setter. Enjoy!
1. Power Play. The Wild has no momentum with the man-advantage the last handful of games. Getting a power play is step one. Then cashing in on it is step two.
2. Offense from the defense. Russo highlighted the distinct lack of scoring the Wild blue line has generated so far. It starts with defenseman getting shots on goal. I'll be counting those tonight.
3. Riled up 'Hawks. When Chicago gets 50 shots on goal, and only gives up 18 SOG, you figure they won, yes? Not in their last game, a 4-3 regulation loss to Dallas. How fired up and focused the Hawks are - and how well the Wild handles that - is a huge key, especially early. If the Hawks get up by a couple early....
So, it's December. You know what that means right? It's time to shit our pants!
Wait. This isn't the Wild locker room?
I mean, I'm about as glass-half-full as you can get, but this annual ritual has got to end, and right fucking quick. Mike Yeo has to figure out which buttons to push, or I'm going straight to #fireyeo territory. I won't even make a stop in #freezucker land or #freehaula -stan.
The team started the season great, but once again, the wheels are falling off. His first year, I gave him a pass because the Wild suffered an amazing stretch of injury bad luck. Shit happens, you try again.
Last year there was no December letdown, because there was no December hockey, but there was a precipitous drop at the end of the season when everything fell apart and the Wild went from top in the division to fighting for the privilege of being Chicago's playoff tuneup.
But this is the third year in a row where the Wild have gone from controlling the play to not being able to control a fucking cell phone, much less the pace of the game. Once is an event. Twice a coincidence. Three times, incompetence.
Shape up, boys, or you'll get to meet a new boss, I hear a couple are available, and they already have clean big boy pants on.
The "appropriate response" question is interesting to me. I like my hockey played with an edge to it. I like the rough - not dirty - stuff. I even like fights - the organic and spontaneous ones that (like and accept it or not) have a hockey purpose.
There is a distinct part of me that wishes the Wild had thumped Kadri for running Bax last night. Part of that, I admit, is because I also play goalie and I've been run (not as bad as that, though) and I know how good it feels when your team steps up and comes to your defense after that kind of thing.
But, on the other hand I am also tired of the "guy hits your guy hard but clean, and you grab him and pummel him" move that is becoming so prevalent. Perhaps I'm ignorant of the historical context for that move, and if it's there, then maybe that makes it more palatable. But it just seems to comport to the over-entitlement that we see in society today and that, frankly, I would prefer to continue to only see in sports like football and basketball. Because a parallel behavior to that is "don't you dare fucking disrespect me" which just seems to feeble and immature, but that is reflective of that mindset.
And I'm having trouble reconciling those two thought processes.
I accept that the Wild just isn't built for that kind of game. So, regardless of whether or not Yeo, the team, or I would have wanted to escalate the hostilities, the prudent thing was to do what they (eventually) did and get even on the scoreboard.
And further to that point, I recall the days of Boogie, Fridge, and Simon. How embarrassingly pathetic that was. And how fruitless.
Maybe the idea is that toughness is more than goons. Boston Garden, 2/26/81, sounds like some revered date in Grateful Dead history, but it's actually the date of a historic hockey game wherein the North Stars conquered their El Guapo in the form of the big, bad Bs (who had run up a 27-0-7 record against the Stars in Boston to that point). Matching them punch-for-punch all over the ice - and up and down the lineup. That game set a PIM record (406) that would stand for 23 years. Now, that's nothing to be proud of per se, but in the playoffs later that spring, the North Stars, having proved to themselves that the Bruins were nothing to be feared, would pull off an improbable 3-game sweep of Boston en route to a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals where they were dispatched in 5 games by the Islanders. So, there you have it: definitive proof that sometimes toughness does have a benefit beyond getting the fans all frothed up.
My friend John used to say that Detroit's enforcer was its power play - and he has a point. Last night, the Wild's power play was no deterrent to the Leafs continued belligerence. And we didn't have a stable of toughs on hand to discourage the Leafs that way, either.
What's bothersome to me is that, okay I accept the Wild can't play that game. But to my eye, they lost some intensity and crispness last night. They've talked about how good their puck possession was, and how they didn't back down when the Leafs wanted to yuk it up after the whistle, but that edge was missing. And, if that's attributable to them knowing they can't play that kind of game with a team as committed to it as the Leafs are, then I think that is a problem. You can't play scared. That doesn't mean I want guys running around just to prove their manhood, and certainly the scoreboard is more important that a dick measuring contest. But, I have a hard time saying the Wild deserved to win that game based on their play. And that's my point.
We'll never know if seeing Bax get run and knocked out of the game cowed the Wild. Or if they were just "off" and would have been regardless of Kadri. And, again, I'm not calling for them to goon it up. That's why this is an interesting discussion. I would have liked to see a sharper effort from the WIld than what we saw. And I'm drawing a connection in my mind between the Leafs brand of physicality and the WIld's lack of sharpness. Maybe that's unfair. Maybe it's totally misplaced. But, what if it isn't?